From Campus to Corporate

Story by David Snow | Photos by Nathan Morgan

When Kim Seymour (‘92) left UT Martin with her diploma in her hand, she had plans of being an advocate in the legal system and running for public office. She turned that education, experience and other talents into becoming an effective human resources officer, a position she has had for a quarter of a century with a handful of corporations, most recently being the chief human resources officer at, overseeing all aspects of the company’s human capital plan with an emphasis on talent, leadership and organizational effectiveness.

Getting to from UT Martin was not the direct path one might think of when considering a career in corporate America. Having interests in different fields can make choosing a career path difficult, but Seymour used her talents in those fields and melded them into a successful career.

Seymour is a 1992 graduate of UT Martin, majoring in political science, having come to Martin from White Station High School in Memphis.

“My initial thought was: I need to go to law school so I can practice law and be a public defender or a district attorney so I can run for office one day,” she said. “I have a strong civic sense of responsibility. I believe that if you’re not willing to do the work to change something, don’t complain about it.”

Seymour went to law school at Vanderbilt University with the intention of practicing law and was able to do some legal work through her coursework, but she decided she wanted to go the corporate route.

So, she earned her Master of Business Administration degree from Indiana University. Although she hadn’t planned to work for a corporation during the time she attended UT Martin, Seymour said her studies helped to prepare her for such a career.

“Along the way, I learned that none of it is about me, and that kind of servant leadership has served me well,” she said. “It’s never about my ego; it’s never about my personal agenda. It’s always about how to elevate and optimize and progress either the organization or particular people.

“I think that has been an element of my success. That’s things that I’ve learned along the way, a whole list of things – but it is based on being the same person I was when I left UT Martin: I’m a critical thinker, I’m extremely pragmatic, very direct. That probably stands out in a world where sometimes, agendas rule the day or people are not as clear in their communication or strategy.”

Seymour said she was attracted to working with people in leadership positions, which is why she decided to pursue a career in that field rather than work for the legal system.

“It’s the way that leadership can either help or hurt the success of a whole group of people,” she said. “I think it’s true everywhere, but particularly in corporate America. You can influence that, and that was appealing to me.

“To be honest, it also felt a little more controllable than what I had seen on the legal side. One of the reasons I’m successful in the corporate world is that I have legal training. It makes me think differently than most people do.”

Seymour said her life experience helped to make her successful.

“Being able to have different perspectives – however you got that different perspective – usually is going to contribute to a better outcome,” she said. “I very definitely bring a different perspective on a whole bunch of dimensions: I’m Southern, I’m a woman, I’m African-American, I went to UT Martin, I have a law degree. 

“All of these things are different in the corporate world, and when those differences are brought to bear on a problem or a situation or a strategy, it usually is a positive contribution.”

Growing up in Memphis but going to college in Martin also gave Seymour urban and rural perspectives on issues as well.

“Not only is that a UT Martin thing, but it’s where law school came into play,” she said. “Being able to see both sides of a situation from different perspectives is harder when you haven’t lived with different perspectives.

“I have a down-home, rural perspective, but I also have a big-city, urban perspective, and they inform different parts of how I come to solutions about things.”

Seymour worked at for two years, bringing 25 years of human resources experience with her. That experience came from different companies, but the sum of that experience has made her a standout in corporate human resources.

“From my perspective, the most influential factor on the success or failure of a venture is the talent that you deploy against that goal,” she said.

“Where do you find that talent? How do you assess it? How do you develop it? How do you promote it and deploy it?”

“All of that is what’s going to make the difference between success and failure. To me, human resources is one of the more important ingredients in an organization. I think we’ve seen that over the last several years when the external world is so tumultuous, and it has an effect inside companies with different cultures and how you approach the workforce and how you communicate with them and support them.”

Seymour’s prior work experience includes similar positions with Weight Watchers, General Electric, Home Depot and American Express.

She also serves on the board of directors of RHR International and the board of trustees of Fisk University in Nashville.

Seymour came back to campus in December 2023 to deliver the fall commencement address (pictured below). The graduates in the audience may not have known it at the time, but she spoke from her own work experiences in giving them life advice.

“I want you to live your best life, but maybe not right now,” she told them. “Maybe it takes a while for you to know what your passion is. Maybe it takes a while for you to know what your best life looks like – and that’s OK. That’s normal. That’s smart.”

Seymour emphasized to the graduates that the purpose of going to college was not necessarily to get a great grade-point average, but the experience gleaned from the years in college.

“No one told me that the purpose of these four years…was not a GPA,” she said. “In fact – my apologies to all of the academics in the audience – beyond the first job you get or the first degree program you apply to, no one for the rest of your life is going to ask you what your GPA was. GPA is a measure; it’s an outcome. 

“It is what happens along the way (that matters). It is what you learned along the way. It is what you demonstrated along the way that makes you valuable to someone like me – not the GPA.”

Although they both grew up in Memphis, Seymour did not meet Rafielle Boone Freeman (‘93) (pictured below with Seymour) – her best friend and the wife of Chancellor Yancy Freeman (pictured above with Seymour) – until they came to UT Martin.

“I met her through interest in Alpha Kappa Alpha, and we pledged the same year on the same line,” Seymour said. “I’ve done a lot in life. I’ve gone a lot of places and done a lot of things. The constant is that relationship, along with other relationships through my sorority.

“She was so different from me; she was always smiling – always. Never without a smile. That drew a lot of people to her, but that is the exact opposite of me. I am not a smiley person; I am not a huggy person, but she very much was. So, that started things off, and when you go through an experience like pledging a Black sorority, that is the very definition of a bonding experience, and that is for life – to the point where I am the godmother to her son.”

Seymour takes credit for introducing Rafielle to her future husband.

“I was at the pre-professional program, and mine was in law,” she said. “That took place at what was then Memphis State University (now the University of Memphis). You move in, and you’re on campus, and my dorm-mate across the hall was a very, very smart gentleman by the name of Yancy Freeman.

“Rafielle came up to visit me at my program, and I introduced her to this very, very smart gentleman that I met across the hall from me. And the rest is history.”

Kim Seymour came to UT Martin with one career in mind, but she took the sum of her experiences and education and found another career that uses more of her interests and talents. Those experiences were not all found at UT Martin or in college as a whole, but throughout her life. It has formed the person she has become and the perspective that she offers to others.

“There is something to be said for the Southern mentality that ranges from ‘Just be nice’ and ‘Treat people the way you want to be treated’ to ‘Lend a hand when you can and lend an ear when you can’t’ that I’ve kind of carried with me,” she said.

“I don’t over-complicate life. I don’t think that most things have to be as difficult as we make them.

“Life back then was simple, but some of those things remain: Treat people well, treat people the way you want to be treated, start with nice until you have to not be nice and lend a hand when you can and do what you can.”

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